— I am upset with Kobe Bryant, and when am I not?
I've been interviewing the guy for maybe 15 or 20 minutes after an easy win over the Philadelphia 76ers when a reporter walks up and starts talking to Kobe in Italian.
Right away, Kobe starts jabbering back in Italian, and so I explode.
"Why is it you are giving this guy all the good quotes?"
And my good buddy starts laughing, and he's been doing that a lot lately, and this is not the Kobe I've known in recent years.
I tell him he's different, suddenly the good soldier, although he still plays like a general.
He doesn't argue. He says he is different. He's older, he's easier to deal with, nary a snarl.
"I was young, extremely volatile, mercurial, but it worked," Kobe says. "Now it's a different team."
But we could count on his emotional outbursts, especially when things went awry, and how much more awry can they go?
"Phil [Jackson] was the calming factor when I would do that," he says. "He did that in Chicago; Michael [Jordan] would go off and Phil would balance it out. Now I balance it out. I have a responsibility to be more nurturing."
Just as surprising as Kobe the nice guy, there is something more difficult to understand. He's playing brilliantly, defying time and the relentless punishment his body has taken.
"I'm surprised I'm playing as well as I am," he says. "I'm surprised I have the energy."
Does he think about a time when he won't have what it takes to be the player he is now? "Absolutely," he says.
"That's part of what keeps me on edge all the time, doing the ice baths in the hotel room, stretching, therapy around the clock and eating right. I'm always on edge wondering when it's going to come time and I can't do what I want."
In this tiring stretch back East, he's played no less than 40 minutes a game, twice playing as many as 44.
"Actually my wind feels even better; I feel like I can run all day long," he says. "A lot of it just has to do with diet. I came to Philly and didn't even have a cheesesteak. That never happens.
"When I eat poorly, I can feel it. I feel heavy and sluggish."
Ireland is not that funny.
"No," says Kobe. "I'm afraid I'm going to feel like he looks."